RE: [asa] The term Darwinism

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Fri Jun 26 2009 - 08:56:13 EDT

What one finds when one addresses the meaning of a term that uses the suffix -ism is that ideology and worldview are almost invariably implicated in the meaning that people affix to it.
Mendelism, Skinnerism, Freudianism, Newtonianism, Copernicanism, Baconism. Any others?
Are people suggesting that 'the ideas of Lavoisier' should be considered equivalent with 'Lavoisierism,' the latter which isn't used just because it is not so smooth to say (in English)? It would seem to make more sense to speak of Lavoisierian ideas, which avoids the charge of ideology or worldview implications. The term 'Darwinism' seems to be more ideological and worldview oriented than most other -isms. Do you folks agree with this?
Undoubtedly Marxism is also highly questionable for the same reason.
Some people argue that 'Darwinism' is synonymous with 'evolutionary biology.' In other words, evolutionary biology could not be itself, as it is currently composed, without the influence of Darwin's worldview. The high number of evolutionary biologists who are either agnostics or atheists in America, just as Darwin considered himself an atheist, reveals a correlation between ideology and science in this particular case that is not easy to dismiss. And yet some seek to dismiss it or to downplay the correlation mainly because it suits their alternative ideology or worldview. So the concept 'Darwinism' is being pulled in many contradictory directions, no one group or school or individual able to claim pure ownership. 
'Darwinism' thus need only be considered as a 'pejorative' term by those who reject the agnostic or atheist worldview. For those who are agnostics or atheists, Darwinism carries a positive connotation, a label that they are proud to carry. One might wonder why some TEs are not interested in carrying the label 'Darwinist' or saying that they accept 'Darwinism' when they accept many or even most aspects of Darwin's evolutionary theories. It seems to me, at least from discussions on this list, that TEs are well aware of the negative connotation of 'Darwinism' in the eyes of their fellow Christian theists and therefore don't wish to upset them; instead they defend evolution and rightfully claim that Darwin (along with Wallace, Huxley, Spencer, Bergson, Dobzhansky, J. Huxley and many others) played a significant role in establishing theories of evolution. Darwin is not an 'icon' for TEs, yet he is a highly celebrated scientist who deserves our appreciation.
Of course, the last sentence above can be repeated safely by IDs too.
Randy Isaac says that J.H. Brooke found that "while evolution was widely accepted, Darwinism was used to refer to evolution by natural selection, which was not widely accepted at that time."
This depends upon what is meant by 'evolution.' It was not widely accepted that ethics 'evolved' or that something like altruism evolved by a purely naturalistic process, without divine or transcendent origins. Darwin himself noted the murkiness of 'natural selection' as a concept duo and the discussion of 'agency' today verifies this. 'Nature' does not have the 'agecy of choice' that human beings have (i.e. as 'more than just natural' beings), which is why Darwin distinguished 'aritificial selection' from the foremer term. But once again we need to move at this point into a comparison of natural-physical sciences and human-social sciences, which is a difficult thing to promote and stimulate on this List.
Is this why Keith Miller flubbed on the idea of non-natural agents that are not supernatural? Probably it is. Geologists are simply not the best persons to speak about 'agency.' Natural scientists in general, whether they are theists or not, find it linguistically difficult to speak of the non-natural realms that exist indepently of (in terms of academic disciplines) or co-dependently with (in terms of philosophy and theology speaking about God, nature and humanity, as Ted now explains) 'nature' or what is 'natural'. To speak of nature and culture at the same time as 'scientific' is a way of playing two sides at the same time as Darwin himself performed, though Darwin explicitly gave up speaking about religion in public. He just wanted to present 'science' in a purist sense of the term even though his language (i.e. the way he communicated his scientific ideas) betrayed his claim to avoid religion totally.
Why did they say 'Darwinism' rather than 'Darwin's (and Wallace's) law/rule/principle of evolution by natural selection'?
Wallace, of course, coined the term 'human selection' in an attempt to balanced the excesses that he saw in Darwinism's view of 'natural selection.'
Moorad's suggestion about the preservation of physics from biology reveals that Darwin's contribution is based on a 'softer science' than what physicists do, doesn't it? 
Our task is to unpack Darwin's language in its various scientific fields, to consider how people since Darwin have used his ideas, expanded, contracted, changed or altered them, improved upon them, given them a makeover, etc. Then all we have to do is to wait for the next big thing, which will inevitably take on a 'post-Darwinist' or simply 'non-Darwinist' label and turn the term 'Darwinism' into something obsolete. Have many years have you got, folks? It's just a matter of patience, isn't it?
p.s. we could try this exercise, for clearer effect, by introducing the suffix -ism to another term as well. Attaching it to a person's name perhaps differs from attaching it to an idea or expression...

--- On Fri, 6/26/09, Ted Davis <> wrote:

From: Ted Davis <>
Subject: RE: [asa] The term Darwinism
Received: Friday, June 26, 2009, 12:37 AM


I'm not prepared to endorse your point that physics entirely lacks
equivalent terminology to "Darwinism" or Mendelism," not without further
reflection.  You might be right -- I can't think of any right off -- I
simply hesitate to make such a blanket claim so quickly.

What physics does have, of course, and has in spades, is examles of
"theories," "laws," "equations," "principles," and such bearing the name of
the discoverer.  I needn't offer even one example, since they are so obvious
to anyone who has ever studied it even in high school.  I grant that this
useage seems different from "Darwinism" or "Mendelism." 

Psychology has "Skinnerism," Freudianism," and probably some others that are
not coming to mind right now.

The closest example I can think of, in physics, is "Newtonianism," which is
not quite "Newtonism" but close enough for me to suggest it to you.  Of
course, Newton was not a "Newtonian" himself, in the sense usually meant,
but that's a long story.

Ted __________________________________________________________________ Yahoo! Canada Toolbar: Search from anywhere on the web, and bookmark your favourite sites. Download it now

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Received on Fri Jun 26 08:56:55 2009

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